Bandon Trails Course Review: at Bandon Dunes Resort
- amateurgolf.com photo by Pete Wlodkowski
- amateurgolf.com photo by Pete Wlodkowski

I’ve written so many nice things about Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes that a reader might wonder “how much are they paying you?” or “is there a bad hole on the property?”

The answer to the first question is they pay me nothing, but they provide my company with our favorite venue. I’ve been fortunate to run the amateurgolf.com Two Man Links Championship for over 12 straight years and I’ve introduced hundreds of satisfied golfers to Bandon Dunes over that time, while connecting with these golfers in a meaningful way for both amateurgolf.com and our sponsors. Before I describe Bandon Trails, the resort’s third layout designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, I’ll answer the “is there a bad hole?” question with a story.

One year, about a dozen tournament players were riding the shuttle to the airport with an unfamiliar face, who sat quietly most of the time as the conversation turned to the controversial 14h hole at Bandon Trails. The hole is visually stunning, but a stun-gun can shock your score if you play “hockey” around the pimple of a green sitting what seems like hundreds of feet below. (Tournament scores have ranged from “drive the green, 10 foot putt eagle 2 to quadruple bogey best-ball.)

As we basically badmouthed the hole for ten minutes or more, saying things like “they’ve got to fix that crazy green,” or “it ruins an otherwise perfect course” and walked off the bus I noticed that the distinguished gentleman in the khaki jacket didn’t have clubs to check.

“Did you ship your clubs FedEx?” I asked.

“No, I was here for the Western Golf Association meeting,” replied the man as he held back a smile.

“You’re Bill Coore, aren’t you?” I stuttered.

“Yup, he replied.”

There wasn’t even a bit of anger in Mr. Coore’s tone when he explained the 14th hole to me.

“Ben and I knew we were pushing the envelope when we built that hole,” said Coore, before he added, “and we can always change it if Mr. Keiser wants us to.”

Sure enough, that hole (the green and landing zone) has been softened up a bit to allow for a bit more room and fewer golf balls being rejected off the old sliver-thin plateau. A drive up the left side provides a lot of different approach options, (including a low running chip or even putt) while a ball that is pushed to the right by the left-to-right sloping fairway off the tee will still require one of the most challenging 70-yard wedge shots you’ve got in your bag. And playing “hockey” is still in question. My foursome played it two under in the most recent playing of the tournament.

Bandon Trails has always been about way more than just the 14th, which is why I’m so glad they softened it up and changed the conversation. Players seem to like that change (as well as lessened severity of the slope fronting the 15th green and the widening of the right side landing area off of No. 18 tee) and I don’t think there is a more consistently challenging-but-fair course at Bandon Dunes. Unlike Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes – where the ocean is in view almost all day – Bandon Trails starts with the A par 3 highlight is the downhill 2nd hole, where a huge sand dune flanks the entire right side. Hitting this green is truly satisfying, especially if the pin is in the back where going for it requires serious early- round courage. The 7th, a Pine Valley-esque uphill hole with a two tiered green requires a strong drive and precision approach shot, while the drivable par-4 8th immediately gives you the chance to regain the shot or two that could have vanished on No. 7.

On the back nine, the 11th hole is simply amazing. The green is nowhere in sight off the tee. The caddie gives you a line, but somehow you know the hole drifts right and the desire to follow the fairway’s contour makes the waste area much more of an attraction than it should be. Find it, and it’s not likely that par is the score you’re writing down. Keep your drive left, and you will be rewarded with views of a pristine pond on the right and large, runway- flat green surrounded by a stand of pines that remind some players of Augusta National. The 150-200 yard approach shot isn’t easy to club, because it looks longer than it actually plays due to run-out. (All reasons to have a good caddie, by the way.) Coming home after birdieing the aforementioned tricky 14th, the par 5 16th stands out as a downhill, then uphill monster looking 535 yard hole that can easily be reached in two by strong players if they position their drives correctly, and flight their approach perfectly. But the first time playing this hole, it looks daunting. Like the rest of Bandon Trails, it passes one of my big-picture golf course tests, “after I’ve played it, am I relishing the chance to have at it again?”

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